The road to hell is paved with spangles, stuffed toys, and PEDs

It’s been years since I viewed a women’s Olympic figure skating final as closely as I did last night’s train wreck. And I still wasn’t quite sure I knew what I had seen well after it was all over.

Chris said afterward that it’d be like the JFK assassination, with the NBC Sports coverage examined for years like Zapruder footage.

This Slate piece, “I Hope to Never See a Figure Skating Event Like That Again,” gave me the explanation I needed to parse what exactly happened, and why I felt like I needed a shower after watching all that drama. Chris Schleicher provides words for why I pray for those Russian kids — and that’s what they are: mere kids — that their shattered lives will heal from the despair of this whole dismal experience. And why I hope for justice for the adults who exploit them, who chew them up and spit them out like so much tendered meat in satin and spangles.

A work of mercy, spoiled

Always go to the funeral.

As I searched in Google for a recent piece I liked that said as much, I found multiple articles to that effect.

This bit of wisdom aligns with the corporal work of mercy of burying the dead. Being at the funeral, regardless of whether you have perfect words of consolation (which you probably won’t), is simply the right thing to do. Sometimes, presence is the best gift you can offer.

Took most of the day off today so I could head to Libertyville for a funeral, with hopes for a detour to Marytown on the way home. It would have been my second funeral this year. But my paralyzing, perhaps irrational fear of ice-slicked roads on this blustery Midwestern winter day got the best of me. I already regret this.

I am grateful for my friend’s pre-emptive dispensation yesterday to pivot to the Zoom feed of the services for her dad. She is one of my dearest friends and one of the most gracious people I know, and I really wanted to be there for her.

Instead, I’m in my home office, viewing services 20 miles away and offering prayers for God’s mercy. For once, the Internet does not suck, and even with my regrets, I can only give thanks.

Upsetting to hear that P.J. O’Rourke has died. My copies of “Holidays in Hell” and the National Lampoon Sunday Newspaper Parody – which I had to repurchase on eBay years ago after a friend in high school never returned my first copy – are among my most treasured possessions. (Even if I somehow can’t find the latter here at the house.)

I know a lot of my friends probably hated his politics, but he was one of the few conservative libertarian types I knew of who was legitimately hilarious. Just a terrific writer and one of my favorite “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” panelists. (I still miss hearing him and Charlie Pierce loudly crack jokes on NPR with those bellowing Irish guffaws of theirs.)

One of my early Chicago memories was seeing him on a panel at the Printer’s Row Book Fair not long after I moved here. I had had a crush on him for years, and the opportunity to see him speak was thrilling. There was something invigorating about the fact that I could simply cross the street from my condo and see one of my favorite writers live and in person.

But I digress. I don’t drink much these days, but I’ll need to knock back a shot of whiskey tonight in P.J.’s honor. Requiescat in pace, sir.

Attended a midday Latin Mass at our parish for today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception.

It was a particularly interesting experience after a vigil Mass the night before at another parish that is decidedly less, well, reverent than ours:

  • fully blinged-out Christmas trees behind the altar;
  • strict adherence to arcane diocesan rules that all but discourage reception of the Eucharist on the tongue;
  • a small army of laypersons armed with hand sanitizers before you receive;
  • and an “extraordinary” Eucharistic minister helping to hand out Communion next to the celebrant, even though there was another priest available to do so.

And for all of that, today’s Latin Mass – in the middle of the day, a somewhat more inconvenient time, really – had more than twice as many people attending, and our pastor distributed the Eucharist himself.

I really don’t want to be one of those stereotypically cranky and indignant TLM types. I’m fine with the so-called Novus Ordo liturgy in the vernacular, so long as it’s celebrated by clergy and parishioners in a reverent and respectful manner. This is rarely the case in the three parishes in our DuPage County suburb, which is one of the reasons why we are registered at a more orthodox parish down the road in a decidedly more working-class Cook County area.

But every time I attend Mass in our town, I’m immensely grateful for our parish, where the faith and the Real Presence is taken seriously. It’s been a gift.

Art when you can

This piece took a bit more than 5 minutes.

Work and other concerns have kept me from the daily art habit I’ve been trying to cultivate. I’m stepping away from any art challenges for a while because I find myself feeling like a failure for not keeping up with it. (I never felt that way with ICAD, because its creator always made it a point to kept things low-pressure throughout, and I was grateful for that.) So, I’m simply trying to #makearteveryday — any kind of art, whatever I can do, as best I can. That’s as much as I can handle for a while.

As much as art has become a self-care instrument for me, the pressure I’ve put on myself to create despite the demands of daily life is sucking all the fun out of it. I’m just going to have to do what I can and not obsess about whether I’m diligent about making this a daily thing.

Anyway, when I find time, I’m trying to get back to the online doodling class I started a while back. Made this cityscape thing. I enjoyed it fine, but I think I have a lot more fun with flowing lines and spirals.

An introduction and a request

This is my friend Young. We were lunch buddies and fellow contractors at a Fortune 500 company years ago. If not for Young, who put in a good word for me with his wife – who was looking for freelance editors at her research nonprofit during my contractor days – I probably wouldn’t have the full-time job I have.

But that’s not why he’s dear to me. He is dear to me in the way that the coolest, kindest souls – especially those who can expound on the merits of Studio Ghibli anime and the spiciest Korean ramen with equal facility, code and design like a dream, and effortlessly bake pizzelles for a roomful of colleagues during the holidays – generally are.

This GoFundMe link – plus an earlier post here – explains his situation in greater detail, but he is in what appears to be the final stages of just-diagnosed pancreatic cancer. His situation is also yet another indictment of the terrible state of our healthcare industry, but you can discern that further without my assistance.

As requested previously here, in your charity, please pray for Young and Jane. And if you are able to aid financially, even a small bit would help.

Also, hug your loved ones – dearest friends as well as family. And don’t ever lose sight of them.

A colleague from Texas introduced me to Nanci Griffith’s work decades ago, and I was hooked. She wove great stories with her songs, and she caught me just as I started getting into what would eventually become known as “alt-country” – or, as she called, it, “folkabilly” music.

She provided the soundtrack of my first couple of years out of college – along with performers like k.d. lang, Lyle Lovett, and Van Morrison and the Chieftains. Her whole Texan thing made me want to end up in Austin.

Alas, a job opportunity I had hoped for in Austin fell through, only to surface days after I accepted another job. But Nanci Griffith’s music stuck with me.

(She got more overtly political, and honestly a little more sappy, for my taste after a while. But she still represented an important and less complicated time that I wish I had appreciated more.)

Nanci Griffith died Friday; she was 68 years old. Feels like that part of my life – when “folkabilly” was a big part of my soundtrack during that early 20s period of growing up – died a little, too.

I’m so tired of death’s shadow right now.

Catching up after a long week of carbs and exhaustion

Spending my Saturday catching up on Padres games and making a flaccid effort to clean my home office.

We flew to California a week ago today; we returned home early Thursday morning. I ate half the breakfast burrito my sister insisted on bringing to me less than 24 hours before, then dragged myself to bed to sleep off some grief, anxiety, and the pain of long hours crammed in a winged sardine can with a thick piece of cloth over half your face.

***

Catching up on whatever news I can stomach (which, these days, isn’t much). The news item that was the biggest gut punch for me: the latest round of buyouts at the Tribune – the first under Alden Capital ownership.

There’s so many familiar names among these buyouts, I’m starting to realize that pretty soon, only a tiny handful of people I worked with nearly 20 years ago will be gone.

Among them: three columnists for whom I built websites when I landed at chicagotribune.com in the late 1990s, including Eric Zorn – who was especially kind and patient with me and will forever be in my mind the tallest, most interactive columnist ever.

Godspeed to the folks who are leaving. And God help the people who are left.

***

I still have a lot to process from the past week. Today I spent a great morning over breakfast doing a bit of processing with one of my dearest friends. Not sure how much processing I’ll do in this space, though. My greatest anxieties stemming from the week will likely remain analog and offline. I have enough to write about online.

***

The airline we flew provides free entertainment to distract us from the cramped seats, the aforementioned long hours in a winged sardine can, and the discomfort of lugging all of your possessions in a carry-on to avoid the $30-per-bag fee for checked-in luggage.

I took home two obsessions, thanks to this free entertainment: David Byrne’s “American Utopia” concert film (directed by Spike Lee) and the Apple TV+ sitcom “Ted Lasso.”

Somehow, “American Utopia” made me feel okay about growing old, even though the “Stop Making Sense” movie provided the soundtrack of my college years more than 30 years ago, and this latest concert film reminded me of that. Byrne has aged, like we all have, but that hasn’t kept him from making joyful, energetic, and insightful art. I watched “American Utopia” on the way to California and during my return home, and it buoyed my spirits when I needed it the most.

The flight only offered the first two episodes of “Ted Lasso,” and when I got home, I went ahead and subscribed to Apple TV+ so I could binge watch the final eight episodes. It didn’t take long. (I only binge watch archived baseball games on MLB.tv, so this was a first for me.) Much has been said about the power of niceness that the show depicts, and that’s part of what I adore about this show. But the titular character demonstrates more than that; there is a resilience and stubborness in Ted Lasso’s optimism, even in the midst of his own sadness and anxiety over his failling marriage. Some critics say, well, this is fiction and not real – but why must so many shows be hard and cynical? We get enough of that in real life.

I don’t watch much TV or many movies; the critically acclaimed stuff strikes me as cynical or overwrought or trying too hard to be woke or meaningful, and I’ve had my fill of that. (Much of what passes for news or punditry also feels overly earnest or a vehicle for cynicism, and I prefer to consume such content in small doses.) I’m just hoping “Ted Lasso” doesn’t take a dark turn in its second season, which starts next month.

***

I ate my weight in carbs while we were gone. I didn’t eat as much rice as I might have six months ago, but I thought nothing of all the tortilla-based and bready, sugary stuff that made its way into my grazing. I think I ended up maybe more than 100 grams over my 100-gram carb limit at one point. But I still logged everything.

Not alarmed. I decided weeks ago that I would go easy on myself this past week. I fully expect some weight gain when I weigh myself Monday. In the meantime, I’m back on the wagon and watching my carbs again. Onward.

Pressing into grief at the ballpark

One of the first things my sister told me Tuesday after she broke the news of our mom’s passing: Go ahead and go to your ballgame on Thursday. It wasn’t exactly what I was thinking about at the time.

But she reiterated the point during another phone call that night. “Daddy would want you to go,” she said. “Mams would want you to go.” Even my boss – who signed off on my day off for the game weeks ago – said the next morning, unprompted, I needed to go.

Finally, one of my wisest friends wrote me in an email this morning: “Don’t be shy about enjoying life (like ice cream and baseball) as you also press into waves of grief.”

So, we’re in Milwaukee today to watch my Padres. Mom wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but I’m still thinking of her anyway.

An obituary for Mom

Mercedes Vinluan Garcia died peacefully Tuesday afternoon in Bonita, California, slightly more than three months after celebrating her 90th birthday. Her oldest daughter and youngest sister were at her bedside.

It is awkward and deeply frustrating to have to grieve from afar. It is even more awkward to grieve when, in many respects, we lost our mother years ago. She was diagnosed with dementia around the time Frannie was born, so my daughter never knew her grandmother at her liveliest, most lucid self. But Mom’s illness never got in the way of her fierce devotion and love for all of us, and she delighted in her only grandchild – especially given that we named her after the husband she lost nearly 30 years ago.

It doesn’t help that COVID-19 concerns will likely limit arrangements to grieve together in California, even as many pandemic restrictions are being eased. It may be weeks before my sister and brother and I can lay her to rest.

I don’t really have it in me to weave the kind of lengthy, heartfelt tribute my mother deserves, so I won’t even try right now. The memories – her sardonic, surprisingly goofy sense of humor; her generosity of spirit; her almost comical worry about the tiniest things that might befall us – will arise here and there and at the weirdest times, as grief does. Just know that our hearts are broken, and we will miss her deeply.

We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life

Prince died 5 years ago today. Doesn’t feel like that long ago.

That morning, I was listening to WXRT on the way to the office. By the time I got there, Lin Brehmer — the morning deejay at the time who, with his colleague Terri Hemmert, is a national treasure — was waxing poetic about Prince’s passing. The somber tone was broken with the riff of a church organ.

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life

Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world

The opening lines of “Let’s Go Crazy” left me weeping in a Naperville parking lot. I turned up my stereo as loud as it would go.

So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one, Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby

‘Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the after world
In this life
You’re on your own

And if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy, punch a higher floor

Five years later, Prince’s hometown is dealing with more gut punches beyond the loss of a favorite son. The world has been torn apart and spliced together in the past 5 years, and it’s changed a lot, it seems. Or maybe it hasn’t, and we’re just seeing the world for what it is a lot more clearly – and maybe that’s an even worse thing.

I’m in my mid-50s, when I thought I’d be done being disillusioned. Maybe it’s good that I let hope spring eternal about a lot of stuff, like human nature and – especially – faith. But how many times can that hope crash and burn in my eyes until I’m done with such things?

We’re all excited
But we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ‘cause
We’re all gonna die

And when we do (When we do)
What’s it all for (What’s it all for)
You better live now
Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door

Maybe it’s not terribly orthodox theology, but I don’t care. It’s become theology I can live with right now. I hope Prince and I will share an afterlife where I can thank him for that.

Sunday worship in the time of pandemic

Not that it’s anybody’s business but God’s, but it dawned on me that one could ask: Why do you opt to view Mass from home on Sundays rather than attend in person, but you’re okay with going into restaurants, a Pilates studio, and even a museum occasionally?

I’ve thought about this a lot. And I don’t emerge from this guilt-free. I get that it is incongruous to be unwilling to go to church yet be willing to go out to these other relatively less important places. The possibility of infection is only a small part of why we remain home Sunday mornings.

The truth is, if it was just me, I’d likely be more inclined to go to Mass. (I haven’t received the Eucharist since my November retreat. And it kills me to think about it.) But I have to consider my daughter, who is preparing for confirmation and reception of Communion in the Roman Catholic Church.

My Episcopal and Anglican friends, having been part of F’s First Communion celebration at our former Episcopal parish a couple of years ago, would be horrified and indignant that our Roman parish’s pastor decided F would have to wait and prepare another 2 years to begin receiving the Eucharist again. But that is what we have agreed to do. F agreed to go through 2 years of CCD – asking to do this first year remotely, rather than in person – rather than try to rush the process by going through, say, a year of RCIA with older people or even periodic meetings with the pastor. Our pastor gave F those options, and she opted for the 2-year deal.

But, my Episcopal and Anglican friends would insist, our former parish was “Catholic,” and the longtime rector there taught that the Episcopal Church is on equal footing with Rome insofar as the sacraments go. This teaching helped me feel better about being at the Episcopal parish, where I was very happy for a number of years, because I knew in my heart of hearts that I was Catholic, and this place – back then, before that rector retired – was in many ways more “Catholic” than a lot of Roman parishes I know. (This was before my husband’s annulment gave me the opportunity to return to Rome, which is a subject for a future post.)

Despite that rector’s contention, however, and the informal agreement of many Roman Catholic clergy with that idea, this is not what the Church – that is to say, Rome – officially teaches. And we are part of Rome now.

F and I had attended Mass at a couple of different Roman parishes since leaving our old Episcopal parish, and F dutifully would join the Communion line, arms crossed, to receive a blessing. There were several times when eucharistic ministers didn’t know what to do with a tween who wasn’t receiving; confusing scenarios would ensue, and they became increasingly awkward. When the pandemic dispensations came down that allowed us not to worry about our Sunday Mass obligation, I was relieved that F didn’t have to go through such awkwardness for a while.

After churches shut down, I set up our own home liturgy each week, based on the Sunday rubrics – the Sunday readings and many of the Mass prayers, up to the Eucharistic celebration, obviously – and wrapping up with our own intercessions and the prayer of Spiritual Communion, plus the Hail Holy Queen and prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. We continued with this even after we returned to in-person Mass for a bit.

When we started going back to Mass after churches reopened, things became even more awkward; the kabuki-like processes involving hand sanitizer and masks complicated things, and both priests and eucharistic ministers became even more befuddled by a non-receiving kid. After several Sundays of this, I finally decided we would remain at home on Sundays. F seemed relieved.

Nowadays, we pray through our home liturgy together before CCD; after CCD, we usually view the Sunday Mass from Holy Name Cathedral. At the very least, this gets F acclimated to the words and routine of the Sunday liturgy without either the distractions that come with in-person worship or the anxiety that comes with awkward Communion line situations.

It can be laborious sometimes, putting together the home liturgy, but reading and praying through the process has been an enlightening and fruitful experience for me. I’m grateful for it, and F seems to appreciate the intimacy of praying through it together as well.

So, no, we’re not attending Sunday Mass these days. The pandemic dispensations remain, so we are okay as far as the Church is concerned. And until the dispensations are lifted, I’m going to forge ahead this way with my daughter.

I went through Lent, and all I have is this lousy angst

It’s Holy Week. And once again, I arrive at this moment realizing that I suck as a Catholic.

Except for some reading I actually accomplished, Lent was a dismal failure. I haven’t been to Mass once, and it looks like I won’t be hitting the confessional until after Easter. I think about God a lot, and I pray each night with Frannie, but my rosary beads have largely gone untouched. I’ve been cranky about the Church, and anything that smacks of traditional Catholic practice or belief leaves me guarded in case it’s linked to some kind of scary far-right extremism.

So, I gravitate to my old comfort zone of moderate evangelicals and Catholic voices like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Fr. Jim Martin, and Franciscan Fr. Casey Cole. My media consumption veers sharply away from EWTN and Relevant Radio now, and more toward America and U.S. Catholic magazines. It feels like the more outspokenly traditionalist and more-orthodox-than-thou the voice is these days, the more likely the voice belongs to angry people who hate the current pope and/or hold frightening views on COVID-19 vaccines, political conspiracy theories, and policies that support the common good.

So much for gravitating back to basics this Lent and getting to know Jesus again. There is that – but then I think, Jesus, have you even met these people?

(Yeah, I know: He has. And yeah, I know: They need His mercy as much as I do.)

Between the pandemic that still scares me from Mass and the divisive politics in the Church today, I feel a lot farther from Rome than ever.

Took F to a movie theater for the first time since the Before Times. It hasn’t been easy to get any gift or celebration ideas from the birthday girl; however, she really wanted to go to a movie. Specifically, she wanted to see “Raya and the Last Dragon” and “Soul.” The latter is streaming only, but we could catch “Raya” in a theater.

It was an entirely manageable experience. I bought tickets and snacks online in advance; we picked up the snacks at the allotted time and found the seats (sanitized for our protection) flanking our reserved seats taped off. Aside from having to wear masks except when eating or drinking – and the very sparsely attended theater – it was fine.

“Raya” was a good movie for our return to an afternoon at the movies. It’s another well-done Disney feature that gets away further from the princess-without-a-male-love-interest trend among Disney movies. (I just learned that there’s speculation that there’s an LGBTQ bond between the protagonist and her frenemy.) I appreciated the Southeast Asian cultural smorgasbord it offers, despite understandable anger about the casting of non-Southeast Asian actors; still, I was delighted to realize that Awkwafina is the voice of the goofy dragon. Meanwhile, F was just there for the dragons.

Anyway, it was a nice afternoon with F. I’ve missed hanging out with her at a movie theater.

Aging ungracefully

I don’t think I’ve always hated birthdays. In retrospect, though, I can think of only a small handful of birthdays (that I can remember) that I actually enjoyed.

(I distinctly recall two I liked: a 21st birthday surprise party in college, and – oddly enough – eight years ago, when I ended up having emergency gallbladder surgery.)

Otherwise, birthdays have become increasingly depressing for me. I’m not even taking the day off from work for the big day. I figured that if I was off work, I’d just spend the day brooding. And no matter what, much self-pity and irritation with my immediate loved ones is likely to be had by all.

No matter how I choose to spend my day (and, more and more, the day[s] before and after), I end up sitting around craving people’s attention and loud, enthused good wishes – and, when I don’t get it, wanting to go away and be left alone so I don’t think about being forgotten. It blows over after a day or two, but it’s not fun when you experience it.

When you stop and think about it – and part of my problem is that I’m stopping and thinking too much – humans just want to be remembered and have their existence recognized. That’s all anybody wants.

(And ironically, or perhaps not, I’m increasingly thoughtless and terrible about remembering and acknowledging others. And appreciating them. I used to be really good at it and made an effort to remember birthdays and such, but then the favor was rarely returned, so I stopped. But that’s a topic for another post.)

Two days before the big day, I’ll be heading out, running errands, and figuring out what to do with myself as I turn a whopping 55 years old. Happy birthday to me.

Stripping away the anger and frills for a basic -- but late -- Lenten start

It’s taken a while, but I think I’m finally on the Lenten train.

The divisive, angry wing of the Church – the one that increasingly condemns Pope Francis, holds up the Latin Mass over even reverent vernacular Mass as the optimal (if not the only true) liturgy, considers abortion the only pro-life issue that matters, and traffics in conspiracy theories and far right politics – has left me thoroughly disgusted. Unfortunately, that wing has touched “mainstream” Catholic sources, including some I had followed semiregularly (like EWTN, Relevant Radio, and Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire operation); even the Catholic bookstore that has been a mainstay for me has fallen to it. So, I’ve had to cull the spiritual supports in my social media and reading to ease the rage that has blinded me for weeks.

I don’t agree with everything that lives at the center-left end of the Catholic spectrum, especially some of the more New Agey spots (cough – Richard Rohr – cough) where it veers from orthodox theology. But the vindictive, holier-than-thou far right spirit that has clouded my vision lately is notably absent, and I feel like I can see God again.

Anyway, so much has clouded my spiritual vision that Fr. Daniel Horan’s suggestion to “go back to basics” for Lent really spoke to me. I’ve gone with one of Fr. Horan’s ideas for the season:

Why not set aside some time each day during Lent to read a portion of the Bible, perhaps start with one of the Gospels and read, reflect and pray with the passage? If we allow ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, sayings and narratives we thought we understood could inform or challenge us in new and timely ways.

So, I’ve been spending some quality time with the Gospel of Mark, using The Message paraphrase of the Bible. It’s been deeply absorbing and eye-opening, more than I expected. It is awfully refreshing to strip away all the ritual, relatively peripheral devotions, church politics, culture wars, and theological preening, and get to the basis of Christianity: Jesus himself.

From there, I’ve only taken up a few other things for Lent:

  • Read and reflect on two other books this season: “Learning to Pray” by Fr. James Martin and “The Hidden Power of Kindness” by Fr. Lawrence Lovasik.
  • Give up YouTube binging on mindless, time-wasting entertainments like “Big Bang Theory” clips.
  • Avoid constant indulgence in news – stop constantly checking the Washington Post, The New York Times, and other such sites – especially stuff that leads to anger, gossip, and detraction.
  • Avoid gossip and detraction. This goes for work and home conversations about everything and everybody: news figures/celebrities; colleagues; friends, acquaintances, and neighbors; church people; and each other. Change the subject when others try to draw me into such chatter. (I have already failed at this numerous times since Wednesday.)
  • I had a semi-grand idea to forego VitaminWater Zero for the season and set aside my spending on that for alms, but I’ve already failed at that. I’ve given up there and I’m just setting aside alms for the archdiocesan COVID-19 relief effort and our local food bank.

Usually I get ambitious about things like Lent. This year, I’m too tired to be ambitious: tired of religion (but not God), tired of the pandemic, tired of life. If only a few steps – beginning with getting reacquainted with Jesus – can rebuild my spirit even a little, I will be overjoyed.

Silliness and ellipses (possibly first in a series)

In memory of Larry King and his late, lamented weekly newspaper column of random thoughts, boldfaced celebrities, and sometimes ridiculous nonsequiturs, I’m directing my stream of consciousness here and spitting a bunch of ellipses into it. Maybe it’ll be a regular thing, maybe not.

“It Is Well With My Soul” is one of my favorite hymns. I wish Catholic churches worked it into Masses. … The Anglican tradition is so superior to modern Catholic worship practice when it comes to hymnody. … Cardinal Cupich and Bp. Barron had excellent homilies today. … Can the rad-trad crowd please stop picking on Pope Francis?

Took my first Advil (or, in this case, an Advil Dual Action pill with ibuprofen and acetaminophen in it) in almost a week. Trying to avoid taking ibuprofen because I suspect it helps spike my blood pressure. … Trying to think of ways to have an avocado a day. … The keto crowd appears to have all the avocado recipes I could want. But it feels like a cult, and it annoys me. … What’s the Dalai Lama up to these days? … That old Fitbit I dredged up is working, but it doesn’t hold a charge for more than a day. I may need to get a new one.

The Tabernacle Choir has become part of my Sundays. Their weekly “Music and the Spoken Word” program gives me background music and a fine nonsectarian message while I write. … The Temple Square organ concerts are great, too. … I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Mormons, even though they won’t call themselves “Mormons” anymore. … Gladys Knight, Steve Young, and Ken Jennings are my favorite Mormons. Oh, and that “Napoleon Dynamite” guy.

I’m obsessed with my Vitamin D, potassium, and magnesium levels. I use supplements to help my Vitamin D and magnesium needs, but apparently potassium supplements need to be used with caution. … Since the king of all potassium-rich foods, the banana, is a nonstarter in my new low-carb life, I’m looking at new sources of potassium. Best bets for me: spinach, yogurt, kefir, and avocados. … I kind of miss Herb Caen.

Speaking of San Francisco, I disagree with Kamala Harris on a bunch of things, but I truly like her. … Deleted my fourth “Doomscrolling” list from Twitter this weekend. … Wonder how long the PTSD will last after 4 years of the last administration. … It’s nice to have a regular churchgoer in the White House again. … Fran Lebowitz is my spirit animal.

I suppose I should be watching the NFC and AFC championship games. I’m not. … Not as much of a Blackhawks fan since they fired Joel Quenneville. … Last I checked, no one had nailed down a date when White Sox pitchers and catchers report. Anybody know? … Good lord, the keto cult annoys me. … I need to send Philip Rivers a thank-you note now that he’s retired.

Sadly, There’s no archive of King’s old “King’s Things” column. Jim Caple at ESPN created a long-ago tribute to it that refreshed my memories of those bizarre clusters of brain nuggets.

Biden: The lesser of two

Outside the pope and God himself, I don’t know if anybody really has the right to call anyone a “bad Catholic.” (That said, I am the first person to call myself one.) But Fr. Whitfield makes some very good points in his piece:

Biden, undoubtedly, represents a highly educated but poorly catechized, barely converted, cultural Catholicism, formed quite nobly but equally vaguely by a faint account of social justice but which is as substantially Catholic as having once gone to parochial school or Notre Dame. Which is to say, very little. Yet it is a bad Catholicism that differs from another bad Catholicism, a religion itself deformed, principally economically. These, of course, are the bad Catholics of the political right, but who didn’t win. …

… as we welcome this new president, we shouldn’t make much of his Catholicism. Biden shouldn’t make much of it himself; but instead, like me and his fellow bad Catholics, work out his own salvation in fear and trembling. It’s also why Catholics must resist the cheap identarian pride of having a co-religionist in the Oval Office. That, and because the religious veneration of politicians always deforms the venerators. Of this we have had enough.

I am definitely to the right of Biden on the abortion issue. (I’m not sure what Fr. Whitfield is talking about when he mentions Biden’s “willful refusal to embrace the integral moral vision Catholicism describes,” but I’m willing to find out and explore what that means.) I wish he didn’t feel the need to ditch what had once been a clearer-cut opposition to abortion for the sake of political viability.

That said, I appreciate the breath of fresh air that is Biden’s clearly deep and sincere faith, however “poorly catechized” it might be. (I cringed when he mused at tonight’s COVID-19 memorial about “if there are angels in heaven.” A lame, tossed-off line, probably, but still.)

If I agree with Fr. Whitfield on anything, it’s the point about resisting “cheap identarian pride” – something that I am guilty of in recent weeks – about having a fellow Catholic in office. It’s that kind of ideological and allegedly faith-based pride that fueled the Trump train for years. ("Baby Christian," my ass.) If we’re looking for role models to emulate, best to look to the saints and not, say, politicians.

The losing battle is under way

It’s been a week since my first visit with the bariatric doctor: a week of carb limits, new meds, and scrambling to find bread and cracker recipes that won’t kill me.

I’ve lost 6 pounds. At least 74 more to go.

So, here’s the gist of my doctor’s weight loss prescription:

  • 100 grams of carbs per day
  • 15 to 30 minutes of activity a day (on top of ultimately 10,000 steps daily)
  • low doses of phentermine (appetite suppressant) and hydrochlorothiazide (diuretic)
  • 3 to 4 cups of fruits/vegetables daily
  • 64 ounces of water daily
  • Don’t drink your fruits” (or, presumably, vegetables)
  • MyFitnessPal to log food intake

I’m failing miserably at the activity part. I did discover chair workouts to do during work breaks late last week; the one I actually pulled off – a whopping 10-minute session – left me achy and winded the next couple of days. But I intend to keep trying.

Although I’m barely meeting the water and fruits/vegetables goals, I’m doing okay with the carbs thing. Limiting my carbs is more of an issue with Chris' dinner planning than anything else, especially on my meatless Fridays. (He generally dislikes fish, except for sushi and some salmon.)

The doctor said it’s not the quantity of food I’ve been consuming that’s the main problem; it’s what I’ve been eating that’s the problem. I’ve been carb-heavy – lots of breads, chips, and sweets – and drinking juices rather than the healthier approach of eating fruits and vegetables. I confess I didn’t grasp a lot of what he said, but he talked a lot about blood sugar spiking and insulin and fast carbs. And he got into sleep quality and how my suspected apnea issues may be complicating my weight issues and ultimately my overall health.

It’s only been a week, and the road ahead remains overwhelming. I have an awful lot to learn about how all of this works. But I still think this is the right way to deal with what has been a lifelong weight problem that I can’t afford to continue.

Next health stop: bariatric medicine

I am morbidly obese. And on Monday, I have my first appointment with a bariatric doctor.

This is a long time coming. Too long. And I don’t even care that much anymore about the appearance and clothes-fitting parts of this. Between being particularly susceptible to COVID-19 illness and generally being more conscious with age of my mortality, it was time to take a step beyond half-assed commitments to everything from Weight Watchers to intermittent fasting.

I’m not looking into weight-management surgery; I want to explore nonsurgical options. I found that despite the horror show of colonoscopy prep last summer, the clear-liquid diet actually provided some gut relief and left me feeling physically better. Not sure whether a liquid diet is an option with the clinic I’m visiting, though.

Lately, I’ve been drinking a green tea kefir smoothie in the mornings, shaken in a Blender Bottle, that keeps me going until the early afternoon:

  • 1 cup plain lowfat kefir
  • 1/2 tsp matcha green tea
  • 1/2 to 1 cup Naked juice smoothie (any flavor; I like Mango Madness or Berry Blast)
  • 2 tsp Benefiber (per my urogynecologist)
  • Optional: 1 packet stevia

That and water (or VitaminWater Zero) keep me sated and energized till I find myself craving something like chips or cookies or whatever after my 2 p.m. meeting. Trying to be better with healthier options.

It probably doesn’t help that we eat dinner pretty late. Granted, I don’t eat nearly as much at the dinner table as I used to (rarely seconds, and I’m more adamant about a simple salad at the outset), but I have slightly more of a sweet tooth afterward. And eating only 2 to 3 hours before bedtime probably isn’t a good idea.

My pelvic floor dysfunction diagnosis last summer, and subsequent physical therapy in the fall, got me much more conscious about my food intake and overall health. I’m much more aware of links between my abdominal pain and my bowel and bladder activity, as well as the importance of gut health. I feel like I’m on the verge of something.

I’m not completely free of my abdominal pain, but I know what causes it, and how to relieve it through mild exercise. Now if I can only be free of my chronic lower back pain.

I look forward to talking with the doctor about all this Monday.

Right-wing extremists destroy the Church

So, I ended up on some right-wing Catholic organization’s mailing list and got a magazine in my mailbox today. Between the articles and the accompanying letter listing in detail the way the current pope is destroying the Church (not to mention the world), I was done with this mailing in all of 2 minutes.

I took the letter (addressed to “Mr. Joyce Garcia”) and promptly scribbled, “PLEASE REMOVE ME FROM YOUR MAILING LIST” across the top, added the postscript “God bless Pope Francis,” signed it MS. Joyce Garcia, and put it in the included envelope — with my own stamps so I pay for my own enraged reaction — for mailing tomorrow.

(I think I also tucked into the envelope the little form they included to accommodate banking information to allow them to siphon donations from a bank account.)

Look, I may have my differences with the present pope (as I have with every pope of the past several decades), but the level of vitriol and calumny leveled against him is out of control. And calumny and its sister sin, detraction, are cut from the same cloth of evil. Both are sins when directed against anybody, but especially against the Holy Father.

The Church has enough problems without having to deal with divisive conspiracy theorists among its members spewing rage and hate.

This just in: I've found a good use for Facebook

I hate Facebook with every fiber of my being.

But I also hate the Bears, ice storms, and coronavirus. I’m stuck with their existence and have to come to terms with them, too.

I have thought numerous times about pulling the plug and deleting my Facebook account. The anti-Facebook crowd that drives this blogging platform I use would say it’s the only way to go. But there are people who are dear to me on Facebook (and its sister platform, Instagram), and I don’t see them removing themselves anytime soon.

Over the past couple of years, I have distanced myself from Facebook, posting sporadically at best and lurking occasionally. It did me a lot of good to break my addiction to the site; it fed a compulsion to compare my paltry lives to that of others, reminded me that there’s too many stupid people out there, stoked my desire for the attention of “likes,” and stole too much precious time.

In recent months, I’ve tiptoed back into the fray, only posting maybe once or twice a week, if that. When I feel myself growing anxious about something I posted (i.e., being bothered by no “likes” or being annoyed by an obnoxious comment), either I delete whatever comment annoyed me or delete the post entirely.

These days, I’ve found an excellent reason to use Facebook. There are numerous groups devoted to rallying snail mail enthusiasts to send cards and notes to people who need good cheer: sick kids, anxious or otherwise troubled kids, lonely or ill seniors, others who could use a kind or encouraging word. As I’ve been charging into a snail mail habit that I hope to develop throughout the year, this is a perfect use of an otherwise insidious social media platform.

The only pitfall here, besides the fact that I’m pulled back into the Zuckerberg vortex of online traffic, is that I’m now buying greeting cards and postcards in bulk. But it’s worth it if it means sending a stranger a little bit of kindness. And I’m enjoying it.

Even Facebook can be redeemed. Somewhat.

Taking another stab at a faith community online

Created a new faith-based Twitter list of only nuns, consecrated virgins, a handful of priests and bishops, and maybe a layperson or two. This is in an effort to build an online Catholic community of prayer I can tap that isn’t cliquish or politically charged. Most online priests are awfully mansplainy, overly opinionated, and far more full of themselves than the nuns, I’ve noticed. Too many priests and bishops on social media leave me disheartened and deeply annoyed.

I’m still craving a sense of religious community that I left when I returned to Rome. Diocesan Catholic culture is bereft of coffee hours and bonding among parishioners, especially in this time of pandemic. It’s clear that individual Catholics have to build that sense of community themselves, which explains in part why I see a lot of effort to bond among folks in the world of #CatholicTwitter.

That effort, for me, is undermined these days by the QAnon Catholic conspiracy theorists who are dividing the American Church. I destroyed a previous faith-based Twitter list because too much political and conspiratorial uproar was infiltrating the conversations.

The minute I see any political tweets or supportive retweets from the likes of the Daily Caller, Trump, Catholic extremists like Taylor Marshall or the Church Militant crowd, or any number of right-wing (or far left) sources, I’ll 86 the list member. I’m disheartened enough by the secular political climate; I’m trying desperately to maintain a sense of hope and civility about my Church. And so far, I’m not doing very well.

Trading one set of anxieties for another

Been disinclined to blog much lately. I post sporadically on Twitter and, to a lesser degree, on Facebook and Instagram.

In recent weeks, I’ve tended to direct my energy outside work and family to following a Twitter list I created with political feeds. I called it my “Doomscrolling” list. I came to my senses this week and deleted the list, leaving my other Twitter lists focusing on faith, sports, and video gaming.

This is the third Doomscrolling list I’ve deleted on my Twitter account. I created this last one as the last weeks of the presidential campaign heated up. I even clung to it during my private retreat a couple of weeks ago, a few days after the election.

I’ve been steeped in anxiety and anger for months now, alternating my attention between the pandemic and politics; sometimes the two areas would overlap. Sometimes my thoughts about faith would in turn overlap with these other areas. But more often than not, the pandemic and politics would suffocate my attention to faith.

I’m long past the point where I’ve burned out on politics. (At this point, I pray to be secure enough in the knowledge that God has got this, and that the transition crisis will be resolved.) But I remain anxious – and am perhaps more so than ever – about the spread of the coronavirus. This, too, needs to be entrusted to God, but not without action on our parts: We will certainly continue to be masked and sanitized and close to home as much as possible. That said, it’s easier to weave faith into our pandemic life; I find myself praying a lot for people, particularly those who have lost loved ones to the virus or are otherwise in the thick of this latest wave of infections. Even on Twitter, I pray along a lot more as I come across requests for prayer and other needs.

But I have a long way to go in keeping my anxieties in check, persisting in prayer, and trusting in God.

The home office goes full-time

My company decided not to renew its lease on the suburban site where I’ve worked for the past 5 years. So, I am officially now working from home full-time.

The decision not to renew the least didn’t surprise any of us; more people based at that office had been working from home, anyway, and our footprint there had been shrinking. Those of us who remained had assumed we’d just be relocated to a smaller space.

One or two folks are requesting to be relocated to the Chicago office, but that office was largely full before the pandemic. But we’re told that space might open up should many workers based there decide to keep working from home. (The company shut down all its offices in mid-March and is now saying offices won’t reopen till early next year.)

Frankly, I’m fine with this. I miss the camaraderie of the office, and I miss my colleagues, though we connect daily via phone, email, and regular GoToMeeting gatherings. But with the COVID-19 situation, I’d rather hunker down. And I’m enjoying reworking my home office now that this is going to be my full-time workspace. I’m moving my crafting and stationery supplies (including my typewriter) up to the bedroom desk area, which I need to clear out. There’s lots of boxes of stuff there that need to go to Goodwill. And I don’t craft much these days, so a lot of those supplies may go, too.

Anyway, C said I need to think about ways to upgrade the home office. Moving out the craft/stationery stuff to the bedroom desk area will help make room for another bookcase, and I need another bulletin board. I’m keeping all my Catholic books in the home office, as I still spend a lot of time there to read, pray, and use my personal laptop for streaming video (religious and otherwise) and writing.

So, the home office is becoming much more of an office. But it will likely remain my favorite room in the house.